“We call on President Rodrigo Duterte to immediately put an end to the political repression and persecution of human rights defenders.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – An alliance of children’s rights advocate groups is calling on President Duterte to step in on the continued harassment on progressive leaders and members, especially with the issuance of an arrest order for 15 progressives just before Aquino stepped down from office.
The Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns denounced the arrest warrant issued by Regional Trial Court branch 10 Judge Retrina Fuentes for 15 leaders of human rights and indigenous peoples groups. The 15 were charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention of some 700 Lumad who fled from different communities in Davao del Norte, North Cotabato and Bukidnon last year due to intense militarization.
Those charged were officials of groups assisting the “bakwets” (evacuees) who are still in the evacuation center in the compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Haran, Davao City.
A report by MindaNews said the judge “found probable cause to order the arrest of the accused with no bail recommended.”
“We call on President Rodrigo Duterte to immediately put an end to the political repression and persecution of human rights defenders. We urge the Department of Justice (DOJ) to dismiss the said trumped-up charges, investigate the cases of human rights violations against children and child rights advocates and hold the perpetrators accountable,” said a statement by Salinlahi in behalf of its 24 member-organizations.
“We believe that the charges and issuance of the arrest warrant, which came out during the remaining days of Benigno Simeon Aquino III in Malacanang, is nothing but a fragment of his legacy of bloodshed and repression under its counterinsurgency operation plan Oplan Bayanihan,” the group said in a statement.
The warrant was signed May 13, but was only received by the groups on June 28.
The case resulted from North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco’s failed attempt last year to make the Lumad refugees leave Haran to return to their communities. The evacuees adamantly refused to go home because of heavy presence of soldiers and paramilitary men in their villages. Catamco then accused the human rights groups of “forcing the Lumad to stay in Haran against their will.”
Ordered arrested were: Kharlo Manano, Salinlahi secretary general, Save our Schools Network spokesperson Rius Valle, Pasaka Confederation of Lumad Organizations chairperson Kerlan Fanagel, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan)-Southern Mindanao Region (SMR) secretary general Sheena Duazo, Karapatan SMR secretary general Hanimay Suazo, Gabriela-Davao secretary general Mary Ann Sapar, Exodus for Justice spokesperson Rev. Jurie Jaime, Ryan Lariba, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) spokesperson Tony Salubre, KMP-SMR chairperson Pedro Arnado, Jimboy Maciano, Jaja Encosio, Sr. Restita Miles, internationally-awarded human rights defender Sr. Stella Matutina, and Lumad leader Isidro Indao, spokesperson of the Kahugpungan sa Mag-uuma sa Kitaotao.
Salinlahi said that the issuance of the warrant showed how human rights activists and NGO workers are being threatened, harassed and persecuted under the Aquino administration. These groups are the ones who provide necessary support for victims of human rights violations.
“It’s very clear that the baseless accusations were concocted by the military…It constitutes a blatant mockery of justice,” the Bayan-SMR said in a statement posted in the Davao Today.
Bayan-SMR said the allegation is “absurd” that 15 civilians, some of them from the religious sector, can kidnap or abduct more than 700 Lumad people from Talaingod, which is a hundred kilometers away from Davao city.
Meanwhile, Lumad leaders backed the 15 human rights defenders. In a report by Davao Today, Datu Kaylo Bontulan, spokesperson of Pasaka-SMR said they evacuated their communities to evade soldiers and paramilitary groups, and they were never kidnapped by the human rights advocates.
Salinlahi called on the public support their call: “We encourage every advocate of children’s rights and welfare to support our calls and add their active voices in defending child rights advocates as defenders of the rights of our salinlahi (next generation).